Choosing Tools

July 24, 2007


The Learning Circuits Blog: Choosing Tools – Big Question for July is about authoring tools. Here’s my two cents…

Let’s say on a chart, you’ve got ease-of-use and flexibility on one axis and inflexibility and flexibility on the other. Many tools that are easy-to-use lack the level of functionality to create complex interactions while many tools that are not so easy to use provide greater functionality and flexibility in the design process. The cost of the tools often (but not always) reflect this. In my experience, tools with a great deal of functionality normally cost more or require a good deal of support.

But wait, we shouldn’t be selecting tools to design with. Shouldn’t the design process for e-learning be independent of the tool? If the best way to learn something can be accomplished using e-learning (over other methods of delivery) then the authoring tool used to create the e-learning should be the one that can provide the level of interaction needed. What do you want the learner to do? If you want them to ‘listen for this’ ‘ask for that’ with a corrective feedback loop, then you’ll need a tool that can do that. If that can be accomplished with an easy-to-use tool that you can learn to use in the appropriate time period, sweet. If you need more flexibility in the design but lack the time to learn how to use the tool, then you should probably consider hiring someone to create the e-learning you need. There’s nothing worse than knowing exactly what you want the output to look like but being stuck within the confines of a template. Similarly, it’s awful to just want a template and have to work with a complex tool. I hate to admit it but an authoring tool nearly made me cry once.

There are a lot of other questions to consider…

  • Do you want to be able to reuse content?
  • Do you need standards-compliant/conformant tools so you can track the e-learning through your LMS?
  • What system requirements do you have?
  • Do you do group development where desktop tools won’t cut it?
  • Oh yeah…and how much money do you have to spend?

Two of the questions within the ‘big question’ were “what should learning professionals do to stay up-to-speed? Do they need to learn new tools constantly?”

Can an engineer draft out a design on paper on a drafting table instead of using 3D modeling software? Yes, absolutely. But is that the best way for what is being created?

Every profession has to stay up-to-speed on what’s out there in their field but I don’t think it’s feasible for learning professionals to constantly use new tools. I think you’d get into a cycle where the only person learning is you…

Brandon Hall Research does have an Authoring Tool Online KnowledgeBase your can purchase if you want an easy way to compare 100 authoring tools against your requirements. If you want to see a demo, let me know.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/weblogs/tomwerner.htm Tom Werner

    Janet, this is such an interesting issue. I wonder if it’s fair to say that all instructional design happens (consciously or unconsciously) within the confines of a trainer’s existing tools and habits.

    For example, ILT courses typically are designed as lecture + discussion + break-out exercises + simple games because that’s what possible in a physical classroom and what trainers are used to doing.

    When VCRs were invented, videotapes were added to most ILT courses because trainers now had that tool — and because worthwhile videotapes became available. (There was no point in designing video into an ILT course before that because reel-to-reel movie projectors were rare and hard to use.)

    If this is so, then — in the real world — a trainer says, “What does this tool let me do and how hard or easy is it for me to use? OK…NOW…what could I design with it?”

    I guess my point is that perhaps when we trainers say that we do an instructional design and THEN look around for how we might implement it, that might be an overly romantic view of how design really happens.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/weblogs/tomwerner.htm Tom Werner

    Janet, this is such an interesting issue. I wonder if it’s fair to say that all instructional design happens (consciously or unconsciously) within the confines of a trainer’s existing tools and habits.

    For example, ILT courses typically are designed as lecture + discussion + break-out exercises + simple games because that’s what possible in a physical classroom and what trainers are used to doing.

    When VCRs were invented, videotapes were added to most ILT courses because trainers now had that tool — and because worthwhile videotapes became available. (There was no point in designing video into an ILT course before that because reel-to-reel movie projectors were rare and hard to use.)

    If this is so, then — in the real world — a trainer says, “What does this tool let me do and how hard or easy is it for me to use? OK…NOW…what could I design with it?”

    I guess my point is that perhaps when we trainers say that we do an instructional design and THEN look around for how we might implement it, that might be an overly romantic view of how design really happens.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Tom-
    In a perfect world one would hope they could design first and then pick what’ll work best from their toolbox. Perhaps just saying it helps. Sometimes too, in corporations anyway, I think we know what tool will work but need to requisition it and wait for it to show up…too late. So you might be left with the VCR and out-of-date VCR tapes while you wait for your DVD player to arrive so you can use the up-to-date content. When the DVD player arrives, you’re ready for your video camera to make video for the Web, and start the wait for that…and so on. It’s probably more realistic to say we design with the end in mind knowing we won’t have the perfect tool, and then select the tool that will do it best,at that time with that content. Striving to suck less I guess.

    Did you ever read the children’s book series “If You Give a Pig a Pancake?” “If You Give a Moose a Muffin?,” etc. It reminds me of this situation…

    If you give the trainer a PC, she’s going to want authoring software to go with it.
    Then, she’ll want an LMS to manage it all.
    She’ll start getting all web 2.0y gooey on you and then….well you get my point. It gets all Cat-in-the-Hat messy after that.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Tom-
    In a perfect world one would hope they could design first and then pick what’ll work best from their toolbox. Perhaps just saying it helps. Sometimes too, in corporations anyway, I think we know what tool will work but need to requisition it and wait for it to show up…too late. So you might be left with the VCR and out-of-date VCR tapes while you wait for your DVD player to arrive so you can use the up-to-date content. When the DVD player arrives, you’re ready for your video camera to make video for the Web, and start the wait for that…and so on. It’s probably more realistic to say we design with the end in mind knowing we won’t have the perfect tool, and then select the tool that will do it best,at that time with that content. Striving to suck less I guess.

    Did you ever read the children’s book series “If You Give a Pig a Pancake?” “If You Give a Moose a Muffin?,” etc. It reminds me of this situation…

    If you give the trainer a PC, she’s going to want authoring software to go with it.
    Then, she’ll want an LMS to manage it all.
    She’ll start getting all web 2.0y gooey on you and then….well you get my point. It gets all Cat-in-the-Hat messy after that.

  • http://www.artichoke.typepad.com/ Artichoke

    Interesting – all this Cat-in-the-Hat messy after that stuff –

    When the Magnet and I work on how best to enhance student learning outcomes with secondary and primary teachers in NZ we use SOLO Taxonomy to decide on the best ICT tool intervention for the planned learning outcome – what sort of thinking does the ICT tool enhance? It seems to help move teachers from seeing ICT as something for publishing a neat copy of student work – and the engage the grudging compliant who doubt that ICTs can offer anything to improve what they already do to improve SLOs.

  • http://www.artichoke.typepad.com Artichoke

    Interesting – all this Cat-in-the-Hat messy after that stuff –

    When the Magnet and I work on how best to enhance student learning outcomes with secondary and primary teachers in NZ we use SOLO Taxonomy to decide on the best ICT tool intervention for the planned learning outcome – what sort of thinking does the ICT tool enhance? It seems to help move teachers from seeing ICT as something for publishing a neat copy of student work – and the engage the grudging compliant who doubt that ICTs can offer anything to improve what they already do to improve SLOs.

Previous post:

Next post: